The taping of ‘NASCAR Angels’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
CORNELIUS ó Former NASCAR champ Rusty Wallace huddled with Rick Hunter and a producer near one of the bay doors of the Griffin Brothers garage.
In the first take Wednesday morning for the film crew, Wallace and Hunter would be looking under the hood of the bright red 1979 Chevrolet Corvette.
Wallace already had given it a good once over when he arrived about 15 minutes earlier.
He knew about the remanufactured Jasper 350 block motor that had been set into the car. He saw his reflection in the chrome air cleaner. All the hoses were new, as was the radiator.
And the body, completely made over by Caldwell Collision of Indian Trail, looked as though it had been driven off the showroom floor.
It would be easy for Wallace to talk a few moments about this car, destined to be the ěNASCAR Angelsî gift two days later to 15-year-old Vic Isler Jr. The boy’s father, a Salisbury firefighter, had been killed on in a woodworking plant fire March 7.
Wallace was on his home turf and in a good mood.
ěUsually we’re in places like Arizona or Maine,î said Wallace, a co-host for the program with Shannon Wiseman. ěThis is handy. I live right around the corner.î
The call went out for quiet in the garage. In the next instant, the lights were on, and Wallace was telling Hunter that the Corvetteís fire engine red color reminded him of his first race car.
Things were ěawesomeî under the hood, Wallace said, and he liked the dress-up kit ó because the show ěwants the kid, when he opens up the hood, to be proud of it.î
ěIt should be a good solid car for him,î Wallace concluded.
The director yelled, ěCut.î Wallace, who someone described in a whisper as ěOne-Take Rusty,î had nailed it.
Next, Hunter and Wallace would look under the car at all the improvements made by the Goodyear Gemini technicians. That segment took two takes, because Wallace wasnít satisfied with the first one.
As the cameras rolled, Wallace said the carís new suspension reminded him of a race car. He noted the front sway bar, the disc brakes, the exhaust system and the manual steering box with power assist ó everything new.
The 1979 Corvette, Wallace said, had been ahead of its time in its handling.
ěIt looks fresh, totally fresh,î he crowed.
For the last take with the car, Hunter and Wallace were joined by the lead Goodyear Gemini technicians who had worked on the car for many days off camera. This would represent the dramatic moment when they supposedly fired up the restored Corvette for the first time.
Of course, the mechanics had tested the new engine many times previously.
As the engine roared to a start, Wallace gave a thumbs up and announced, ěThat babyís purring like a kitten.î
The crew cheered and clapped behind him.
The take went well, but the director asked that Wallace and the other men reenact the scene, but this time the engine would not be started. The sound could be mixed in later.
Even though the motor was dead quiet underneath him for the second take, Wallace said, ěThat baby is as smooth as silk.î
So goes a day of shooting for ěNASCAR Angels.î
Wiseman, a former Miss Winston Cup and a reporter for NASCAR.COM, said the show in general ó a car version of ěExtreme Makeoverî ó often leads to tears.
ěIíve never seen more men cry than I have on this show,î she said Wednesday at the garage.
Dennis OíNeill, a producer for ěNASCAR Angels,î said the deaths of Vic Isler Sr. and fellow firefighter Justin Monroe are painfully fresh and had such an impact on the community that the project became a mission for the men restoring the Corvette.
ěPlus, the car,î OíNeill added. Itís a Corvette ó not a Corolla or Impala.
ěThis is a project they really wanted to work on,î added Hunter, who serves as the Goodyear Gemini crew chief and technical consultant for each episode.
ěThis is really going to be one of the best stories weíve done. … The great part for me is I get to give the car back. I canít wait to give it to Vic Jr.î
Caldwell Collision had two weeks with the car before Goodyear Gemini technicians from Griffin Brothers stores took over, Hunter noted off camera.
ěThe Fixî section of the show compresses time and sometimes gives the impression that repairs were done in only a day or two.
The 1979 Corvette needed a lot of work. While the Fiberglas body was free of rust, it had a lot of scrapes and dings, and the body shop experts determined the car had been in a wreck.
Jeff Caldwell said his shop put at least $15,000 of work into the body and paint job, which is really the red color of a 2007 Corvette.
The Corvette didnít run or, for that matter, stop.
Most things, except for the transmission, pretty much had to be replaced, down to the windshield wipers.
The Corvette moved out of the garage Wednesday night so it could be fitted with a new red interior at Dale Wallsí Charlotte Sunroof. His shop had 12 hours to update the original factory seats with a new catskin leather, new carpet, door panels and steering wheel.
ěItís a lot different than it was when I first saw it,î Walls said Friday.
For Caldwell and Walls, this was the third car theyíve worked on for ěNASCAR Angels.î
Russ Carter, general manager for Griffin Brothers, said each of the six area stores played a role in the carís restoration. Parts were not always easy to come by, with some having to be shipped in from depots in Texas, Florida and Virginia.
On three different nights the previous week, some of the Goodyear Gemini technicians stayed to work on the car until 10:30 and 11 p.m. after they had worked a full dayís regular shift, Carter said.
ěIt really turned out good,î Carter added. ěTo see it before and after is unbelievable.î
All the people working on the car volunteered their time.
While Wallace handles the garage talk with Hunter, Wiseman spends time with the families, hearing and relating their stories. She leads the people on a total NASCAR experience in top race markets such as Charlotte.
ěThe reactions on ěReveal Dayî are just amazing,î Wiseman said.
The overriding mission of ěNASCAR Angelsî is to provide a transportation fix for people in need and stress the importance of regular car maintenance.
But Hunter and the others in the garage Wednesday knew they would be giving Vic Isler Jr. something more on Reveal Day than a good running car.
ěThis has gone from a project to a classic,î Hunter said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or